St John People, Volunteering

Friendship and St John Ambulance

Museum of the Order of St John Isobel MacAuslan, Museum Assistant

St John Ambulance could not provide first aid care to the public without the hard work and dedication of thousands of volunteers who attend regular meetings and keep up-to-date with the latest practices. Through volunteering, many life long friendships have been forged. We asked three of our museum volunteers, Mike, Seamus and Shirley, who have all enjoyed long careers with St John Ambulance, to tell us about the friendships that they have forged whilst volunteering with the charity.

Volunteers get involved for all sorts of reasons. Mike joined St John aged 14 after being invited to join Cadets by a school friend. In Seamus’ case, it was his mother, a nurse, who encouraged him to join as an alternative to Scouts. Shirley wanted to continue her familial connection to St John after she “grew up with tales of my grandfather (who died before I was born) being an Ambulance Member in the 30s and 40s and inherited his silver re-examination medallion and labels”.

The life of a St John volunteer is conducive to meeting new people. Volunteers spend a lot of time together, attending training, meetings, camps, competitions, social events and public duties. Shirley recalls that there were quizzes and race nights. Mike mentions meeting many of his friends through teaching and assessing sessions. He went out teaching and assessing First Aid and Nursing with adult members and cadets. All maintain friendships that span the course of their involvement with St John, even those they made as Cadets.

Public duties in particular offer the chance to develop relationships. Shirley remembers that “any public duty usually felt like spending time with friends, as I never met an unfriendly St John person (that I can remember!)”. As Seamus, puts it “Attending events of so many different kinds means I have shared experiences of many different kinds. At public events I have been part of the experiences rather than ‘just’ a spectator which means I have shared time, efforts, responsibilities, traumas and fun with so many remarkable people. In such circumstances over periods of time you get to know, like and respect many of those people and thus they become friends. Add to that the training, the meetings, the social events and many other shared times that St John gave me opportunity for, and the friendships became firmer and better”. Seamus played a central role during public duties, serving in operational roles such as Assistant Commissioner, Deputy Commissioner and Commissioner from 1st January 2001 to the start of 2008. His work with St John led him to encounter people from other walks of life such as the public sector, statutory services and private organisations.

All three of our volunteers met their partners through St John. Seamus and Shirley were married in 1976, having met through the Finchley Division of St John Ambulance. Their two children have also been involved with St John Ambulance. Shirley writes that they “joined Cadets and attended London District camp for many years, both as Cadets and adult site helpers. Friends they made there remain friends with us, as do some Badgers and their parents”. Mike met his wife in the early stages of his St John Ambulance career.

The lifelong friendships that have been forged through St John are nurtured by the networks and opportunities that are available. Both Seamus and Mike are members of the Hospitallers’ Club, historically just gentleman but now open to ladies, whilst Shirley is a member of the Lady Hospitallers. The Hospitallers’ Club was founded at a meeting on 14th May 1920 to create a social club for officers of the St John Ambulance Brigade. Originally, the membership consisted of members of the Prince of Wales Corps but in 1926 it opened to the whole Brigade. It hosts a programme of events for members to attend. The St John Fellowship, formed in 1983, was born out of a desire to create a formal organisation and allowed ex-members of St John to stay in touch and meet with each other. At the last count, there were 224 branches worldwide. The Fellowship aims to support former members in need and enable them to keep in touch with each other, whilst also supporting the activities of the Foundations of the Order. Like Seamus, Mike and Shirley, many of the volunteers that we are lucky to have here at the Museum know each other through St John. Volunteering at the Museum provides yet another opportunity to stay connected and try out their baked goods on enthusiastic staff.

Mike, Shirley and Seamus have all had fascinating careers with St John Ambulance which are detailed below.


Mike Cunvin

Mike’s career with St John has spanned a total of fifty-four years! He joined at the age of 14 as a Cadet, serving as Cadet leader before transferring to the Adult division. On the completion of his nurse training, he became Divisional Nursing Officer and was later promoted to Assistant Area Nursing Officer then Corps Nursing Officer. He has held several Area positions including Area Competition Officer, Area Staff Officer Cadets, and Area Nursing Officer. Mike served as Staff Officer to the Area Commissioner. He has been heavily involved in training, serving as Area Ambulance Training Officer and as District Ambulance Training Officer. Finally, he served as Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Member Support, maintaining member records and organising the annual service award presentation for the London District.


Shirley Kelly

“I joined Finchley Combined Division as a Nursing Member in the mid-70s, became Treasurer, and transferred to Wood Green early in 1978.  I helped out with Medical Comforts (loaning commodes, wheelchairs, etc.) after the arrival of the two junior Kellys, but resigned in the mid-80s.  I re-joined as a Badger Leader, opening Barnet Badgers in 1991 and retired in 2016.  Meanwhile, I joined the staff at NHQ, Grosvenor Crescent, Youth and Training department, in 1992 as an administrator and left in March 2017.”


Seamus Kelly

“I joined St John as a Cadet, in my home town Colchester, in 1963. I was a Cadet, Cadet Corporal, Cadet Sergeant and Cadet Leader. I transferred to Adult Membership in 1968 and moved to London in 1974. I served as Member, Storekeeper, Corporal and Sergeant in Finchley before transferring to Wood Green as Officer and then Superintendent. Then served as a Staff Officer in Area from 1980, London District from 1983. Promoted to Assistant Commissioner in 1988, Deputy Commissioner in 1991 and Commissioner on 1st January 2001. My final Operational post was Deputy Chief Commissioner and Resilience Adviser from 1st January 2008. I have been a Member of the Priory Ceremonial Team since September 2016 and a Priory Archive Volunteer since February 2019.”

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